Asia,  Destinations,  Laos,  Travel Diary

Three days at the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury, Laos

I spent three days at the Elephant Conservation Center near Sayaboury, Laos in October 2023 and had an AMAZING time.

Elephant Conservation Center

The ECC is a Lao-French Joint Venture Company established in 2010. They currently have 34 resident elephants and 50 wild ones, on a 6,000 hectare section of National Protected Area. Their focus is on conservation of Asian elephants, particularly those in Laos.

Most of the elephants in Laos were used for working, and so they never bred as they would’ve in the wild. Now there’s a big generation gap, as the former working elephants are either too old or too infertile to breed, and the younger ones are TOO young. Part of the ECC’s current focus is fixing that issue.

They also have a rewilding plan, where they help former domesticated elephants “rewild” themselves by forming family groups, and then releasing them into the national protected area. You can read more about that here.

Why go to the Elephant Conservation Center?

There are lots of elephant sanctuaries in Laos and Thailand, but ECC is different because guests have no interaction with the elephants at all.

You don’t touch the elephants. No bathing, no feeding. The only people who interact with the elephants directly are the mahouts and doctors.

This was VERY important to me, because touching/feeding/bathing/whatever is very disturbing to elephants. Just having that boundary set up showed me that the Elephant Conservation Center was truly ethical, and so I booked my tour with them.

They have a few different tour packages available. I booked a 3 day, 2 night package which included transportation to/from the Center, all meals, an English-speaking guide, and a private room with shared bathroom.

There’s also a 2 day, 1 night package for slightly less money– but I have to say that everyone in our group who booked the smaller package wished they did the longer one!

What do tours involve?

Guests get to observe the elephants– sometimes from close up!– and learn about the history of elephants in Laos, as well as learn about the Center’s programs for breeding and re-wilding.

In my group, we got to follow along as the elephants went out looking for food, went bathing in the lake, interacted with their friends, and visited the hospital for a checkup. Elephants passed by us very close at time, which was amazing!!

On the three day tours, guests go visit the bull elephant area. This was a short visit, where we sat in a tall observation tower with our guide and a mahout. It was interesting hearing about the different ways male elephants are socialized compared to female elephants, and how the ECC handles juvenile male elephants transitioning into adulthood.

Accommodations, food, and staff

The accommodations are a bit rustic, with no air con and somewhat exposed-to-the-elements building structures. But they do have electricity! The cheaper rooms shared toilets and showers (like hostels), and we all ate together in the dining hall.

Food provided (all meals once on-site) was local stuff, but tempered to Western tastes. They can accommodate if you’re vegetarian, too. I found everything to be delicious and filling. Plus, they had French bread at breakfast! Yum!

The ECC staff and mahouts were all wonderful, very kind and willing to talk about the Center and their programs. The majority of the staff are locals, including the tour guides and mahouts, and they are paid wages. Some of the admin staff are volunteers from abroad (we met a French lady who had been volunteering there for years!) and they occasionally bring in outside help, usually for veterinary purposes.

As a bonus, there were four cats running around the dining hall during our stay! 😀

What to pack

There are some specific things I’d recommend bringing with you to your Elephant Conservation Center tour:

  • Hiking boots or trail runners: Some parts involve following elephants and mahouts out into wilder areas, and if it’s rainy season the trails will be muddy.
  • Swimming stuff: Guests can go swimming or kayaking in the nearby lake!
  • Mosquito spray. A LOT.
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. Sun protection is important!

I really enjoyed my stay and I highly recommend checking it out the Elephant Conservation Center if you’re staying in Luang Prabang or Sayaboury.

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More adventures in Asia:

Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal. Read more...

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